Just when the media hyperventilation over Donald Trump vs. Jeff Sessions had reached a peak, the pundits pounced on a new White House feud: Anthony Scaramucci vs. Reince Priebus.
The conventional wisdom is that the new communications director, in his zeal to crack down on leaks, may have gone too far. But based on my reporting, Scaramucci believes he emphatically underscored his point, and the president is on his side.
The former hedge-fund manager has declared in a series of interviews that he’s ready to fire anyone caught leaking, at least in the communications department he oversees. And keep in mind that Priebus, the chief of staff, blocked Scaramucci from initially joining the White House and opposed his new appointment. No wonder Scaramucci told CNN’s Chris Cuomo that they were brothers like Cain and Abel. (You may recall that Cain wound up murdering Abel.)
All this set the scene for Scaramucci’s reaction when Politico reported that he still stands to profit from the firm he is selling, SkyBridge Capital, and has earned $10 million from the company he founded in the last 18 months.
That prompted Scaramucci to tweet this: “In light of the leak of my financial disclosure info which is a felony. I will be contacting @FBI and the @TheJusticeDept #swamp @Reince45.”
By tagging Priebus, Scaramucci was at least insinuating that his rival was behind the leak.
But there was no illegal leak, as Politico says the information came from his financial disclosure form, which became publicly available days ago. Scaramucci deleted the tweet and said he wasn’t blaming Priebus by tagging him.
But in a lengthy interview on “New Day,” Scaramucci didn’t exactly exonerate Priebus. When he “put Reince’s name in a tweet,” the media “make the assumption it’s him because journalists know who the leakers are. If Reince wants to explain he’s not a leaker, let him do that.”
That was clearly meant to put the ball back in Priebus’ court.
Scaramucci told Cuomo that “the president and I are working together with a large group of people to clamp down on the nefarious nature of these leaks.” And, he said, “there are people inside the administration that think it is their job to save America from this president. That is not their job."
Late in the day, the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza published expletive-laden excerpts of a call that Scaramucci made to him, asking for his source for a tweet about a dinner that Trump had with Sean Hannity and others. Among other things, Lizza quoted him as calling Priebus "a f--- paranoid schizophrenic." The communications director, using such crude terms, undoubtedly assumed it was off the record, but Lizza says he did not make the request during the conversation.
"I sometimes use colorful language," Scaramucci tweeted last night, later adding, "I made a mistake in trusting a reporter. It won't happen again."
On the palace intrigue level, this sheds light on whether Priebus’ position is eroding, since Trump has obviously empowered his new aide—also a former New York businessman—to start knocking heads. Maybe only Cain or Abel will survive.
But the dynamic goes deeper than that. If Scaramucci really has the power to start firing people and at least partly close the leaky spigot, it could change the culture of a White House that is often defined by internal squabbles played out in the press. A more disciplined administration would mean stronger messaging, rather than a cacophony of voices.
It’s a high-wire act for Scaramucci, but one he clearly seems to relish.